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Chrome: Linux’s best Web browser?


p>I’m a long-time Firefox fan, but I’ve also grown fond of Google’s Chrome browser. In fact, I’ve pretty much switched to Chrome as my browser of choice on my Windows PCs. I’ve stuck with Firefox on Linux, but now that Chrome is available as a beta on Linux, I’m being tempted to switch.

I’ve been using the Chrome developer builds on Linux for months. It was fast but also unstable, so I never seriously considered it as a Firefox replacement. But the Chrome beta is proving to be both faster than fast and stable to boot.

I’ve put this rapidly evolving Web browser to the test primarily on my Dell Inspiron 530s. This desktop PC is powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800MHz front side bus, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 Graphics Media Accelerator. On it, I’m running MEPIS 8, one of my favorite desktop Linux distributions.

The first thing I noticed with the beta is that it’s faster than ever. Pages that drag to the screen on Firefox burst on to the screen with Chrome. This wasn’t just my perception. On the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark test, Chrome zipped in at 786.2 milliseconds. That’s more than three-times faster than Firefox 3.5.6 with its 2,969.4 milliseconds on the exact same machine. Wow.

Speed isn’t everything though. I’m also pleased that Chrome now supports extensions like Xmarks, my bookmark sync program of choice. While Chrome doesn’t have the wealth of extensions that Firefox has yet, there are already many good and useful Chrome extensions.

Chrome also looks good in Linux. The interface itself is written with the GTK+ toolkit, which is also the foundation for GNOME. While this means that Chrome works best with GNOME’s GTK themes, it also looked and worked great with my MEPIS’ default KDE 3.5.9 desktop. That’s because while KDE is built on top of the Qt framework, I always install GNOME’s fundamentals on my desktop even if I never intend to actually use GNOME on it. This way, when I use some of my favorite GNOME applications such as the Evolution e-mail client and now Chrome, I don’t have to worry with minor incompatibilities.

Speaking of incompatibilities, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chrome on Linux passed the Acid3 Test with a near-perfect 99 score. This means that Chrome is compatible with Web 2.0 applications and should render correctly the vast majority of up-to-date Web standard-compliant sites and pages.

But there is one major problem with Chrome for some users. While Chrome is built atop the open-source Chromium, Google Chrome itself is a closed-source program. To be exact, in the Google Chrome Terms of Service for the Linux version, section 5.3 of the agreement reads: "Unless you have been specifically permitted to do so in a separate agreement with Google, you agree that you will not reproduce, duplicate, copy, sell, trade or resell the Services for any purpose." The ‘Services’ in this case includes the Chrome program.

It’s a rather odd terms of service since you can always build your own version of the Chrome browser from the Chromium code-base, which is licensed under the very liberal BSD license. The upshot of all this is that, unlike Firefox, you probably won’t see Chrome included in Linux distributions such as Fedora, which are pickier about program licenses. However, since Chrome is freely available in both the DEB and RPM formats almost any Linux users will be able to easily add it to their distribution.

At the end of the day, I’m still fonder for Firefox on Linux, but I think that has more to do with my years of experience with Firefox than it does with the comparative merits of Firefox vs. Chrome. If you can live with the oddities of Chrome’s license, I think you’ll find that Chrome is now Linux’s best Web browser.

A version of this story first appeared in ComputerWorld.